Legal complaint filed in Vision Forum case
Religion | The possibility of a messy trial brings important reminders about Christian clarity
by Jamie Dean
Posted 4/16/14, 12:18 pm
In the April 5 issue of WORLD, we reported on the closing of Vision Forum Ministries (VFM), and the fall of its leader Doug Phillips. In October of last year, Phillips resigned as president of VFM, admitting to a “lengthy, inappropriate relationship” with an unmarried woman that included “an inappropriate physical component.” Yesterday, attorneys for that woman filed a complaint in a San Antonio court against Phillips, VFM, and Vision Forum Inc. (VFI), the for-profit company Phillips owns.
The complaint identifies the woman as Lourdes Torres-Manteufel, a former member of Phillips’ church, Boerne Christian Assembly (BCA) near San Antonio. (Torres, 29, recently married Nolan Manteufel, who also attended BCA for years.) Torres-Manteufel met the Phillips family as a teenager and helped in their home and on some ministry trips over a period of years. Phillips served as a church leader and spiritual authority in the congregation Torres-Manteufel and her family attended.
The complaint filed yesterday alleges Phillips committed “inappropriate, unwanted, and immoral sexual acts” against Torres-Manteufel. The complaint graphically alleges sexual incidents, but not sexual intercourse, and it doesn’t allege sexual contact when Torres-Manteufel was a minor.
In a March statement to WORLD, Phillips’ attorney said he advised his client to decline comment due to pending litigation, but said that the specifics of Torres-Manteufel’s legal claims “are strictly and generally denied.” The attorney called her legal claims “false, defamatory, and made with malicious intent, to destroy Doug Phillips, his family, and his ministry.”
Torres-Manteufel is seeking monetary damages from Phillips, VFM, and VFI. The complaint alleges Vision Forum leaders were negligent in their supervision of Phillips, and it asks for a jury trial.
If the case goes to trial, it’s possible that the proceedings may air on television, since Texas courts allow cameras in the courtroom under certain circumstances. That could amplify an already-tragic situation, with attorneys hashing through graphic details in open court.
Beyond the messiness for the families and the local church involved, the case also has implications for the broader church, and it’s likely to draw attention from those outside the church as it gains traction. Without a careful understanding of Christian teaching, a tragic situation could bring derision on Christianity more broadly.
It’s certainly happened in other cases. Media outlets lampooned Christians in the 1980s during coverage of the scandal surrounding Jim Bakker at PTL Ministries in Charlotte, N.C. Other scandals have followed, and have ensnared ministry leaders across the theological spectrum.
In this case, the Torres-Manteufel complaint singles out the patriarchy movement that Phillips ascribed to in his teaching and ministry, and contends this system suppressed Torres-Manteufel from speaking out against Phillips. It also notes a thread of the teaching that discourages women from attending college or leaving their fathers’ homes until they marry.
That’s different from the complementarian view of Scripture that’s far more predominant in broader evangelical circles. This view affirms the importance of the Christian family, and it affirms that the Bible establishes men as authorities in their homes and churches, but it also allows far more liberty in the opportunities women pursue in their lives and callings. (Clearly, many Christian women at some point go to college and have jobs.)
For evangelicals, these may seem like obvious distinctions, but they’re important to emphasize when a scandal erupts within Christian circles that grabs the attention of those outside the church.
Sadly, when scandal increases, gospel clarity decreases. The message of the gospel—Christ saves sinners—remains the same, but scandals often shroud this view from a watching world. Thankfully, the same gospel offers hope in sinful situations, and a reminder of the need for God’s mercy, and for clarity in Christian thinking.